Could Lincoln Be Elected Today?


This website was brought to my attention through a publication for members of the National Council for the Social Studies.  In an attempt to promote responsible rhetoric, fights hyperbole in political advertisements by analyzing the criticism candidates give one another – often through mischaracterization.

During any election season we are constantly bombarded with political advertisements.  Students come often enter the classroom with little understanding of the actual candidates and issues.  Instead, they remember the inflammatory rhetoric in these advertisements or some overly simplistic version of the truth.

In an effort to reframe history to better understand today, has produced a series of attack ads that help answer the question, “Could Lincoln be Elected Today?”  I have used similar resources in U.S. History classes from fifth to twelfth grade.

Each of these advertisements treats the volatile election of 1864 as a modern election, complete with Super PAC funded advertisements for the two main candidates.  The Civil War raged as Lincoln ran against a former general who promised a swift end to the war, even if it meant losing the Southern states.  Politics in the era were not gentlemanly or more civilized than today.  The methods of delivering the message – and the language employed – were of a different era, but the desire to win at any cost has been a part of American politics from as early as 1824 with the “Corrupt Bargain.”

I plan to use these attack advertisements in the coming weeks as students study the Civil War at the same time as the 2012 Presidential election.  We have already analyzed political advertisements in the twentieth century via the website, and students are paying closer attention to this election’s advertisements.  My plan is to have students fact check the Lincoln advertisements in order to develop their research and critical thinking skills.

One goal of utilizing this resource is to reframe history in such a way that students understand the past is complicated.  Lincoln was not guaranteed a second term and the nation would be vastly different if he had been defeated by George McClellan.  The election was contentious, and many people looked to McClellan to bring peace.  The war certainly would have ended, but we know the absence of war does not necessarily mean peace.  These advertisements can help students understand the divided nature of the country, even among those on the side of the Union.  This can help students understand Lincoln as something more than a man carved in marble.

The other pillar of peace education implicit in this resource is community building.  By analyzing attack ads from another century, students are far enough removed from the era so they can look more closely at the political tactics in the advertisements.  In doing so, students learn the skills necessary to evaluate political advertisements for the 2012 election.  The use of this resource takes the contentiousness away from a political discussion, which can help build community among a heterogeneous group of students.

One thought on “Could Lincoln Be Elected Today?

  1. This is a really great analysis of an interesting resource. But even more than the website you reference, I am impressed at the potential of this activity to make students make links between historical events and current events. It’s not often that elementary school teachers get it right… introducing a critical perspective of historical narratives is key, which is something you didn’t mention in this post. Our political system is dominated by males — during election times, I’m especially frustrated by and aware of the lack of female voices. I think a good addition to such a lesson about past and present would be asking students to question how female voices in the media affect our political processes.

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